Penn Med offers increased focus on LGBT issues

· April 21, 2011, 1:07 am   ·  Updated April 21, 2011, 12:00 am

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While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender awareness has made strides in the legal world, it still has far to go in the medical world.

The School of Medicine has taken steps to incorporate more LGBT patient education into its curriculum. While the average amount of time devoted to LGBT care in medical schools nationally totals less than four hours, the Medical School offers at least seven, Clinical Psychiatry assistant professor Benoit Dube wrote in an email.

However, a Stanford University report published last week claims that medical students today are not entirely confident about treating the unique health-care needs of LGBT patients.

This lack of confidence stems not from a “reluctance due to negative feelings about a particular population,” but rather from concerns about their “ability to care for LGBT patients beyond topics such as HIV and safer sex,” Giang Nguyen, professor of family medicine and community health at the Medical School, wrote in an email.

LGBT patients, including transgender individuals going through the gender reassignment process, have particular mental health and medical concerns that need to be addressed, said College junior Victor Galli, the vice chair for political affairs of the Lambda Alliance — Penn’s umbrella organization for LGBT groups.

“Physicians need to know how a patient identifies, but they need to know what their personal concerns are as well,” said first-year Medical student Ted Kreider, co-coordinator of LGBT People in Medicine, the LGBT-interest group for the Medical School.

Medical students are often unprepared for discrepancies between an individual’s sexual orientation and their past experiences, Kreider said, citing the statistic that 90 percent of women who identify as lesbian have also had sex with men.

Providing students with incomplete knowledge of how to address patients’ specific concerns “can let health problems worsen,” he added.

At the Medical School, students are exposed to LGBT patient treatment in their first year. In the pre-clinical phase of medical school, classes feature panels of LGBT individuals as well as clinicians who specialize in LGBT patient treatment, Dube said.

In January, Nguyen introduced a one-hour session on primary care of LGBT patients for students in the Family Medicine and Community Health program.

Despite the Medical School’s progress in LGBT education, “it is not as extensive a part of medical education generally as one would wish,” LGBT Center director Bob Schoenberg said.

“Penn is certainly not at the forefront of medical education related to LGBT patients, but it is still far ahead of the pack,” first-year Medical student and LGBTPM co-coordinator Eric Rosoff wrote in an email.

The University should “make sure that its faculty, staff and students have health insurance that covers special LGBT needs like gender reassignment surgery,” he added, since individuals’ experiences affect the community’s dynamic.

Apart from Penn, however, medical schools nationwide have to “create a standard of what needs to be addressed in medical education,” Kreider said.

“Anywhere there are people, there are going to be LGBT people,” Galli said. “If we are not preparing doctors to work with these people, we are doing a disservice to a massive portion of the population.”

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